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Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Play is a child’s job. Have you ever noticed how focused a child can become during their play that they ignore instructions and voices of the adults? They are so finely tuned into their play because it is nature’s way of helping the child develop and mature in a manner that is appealing to a child. They don’t want to be taught how to be a doctor at age 5 by a parent sitting them down and explaining the duties and role of the family physician. The child would rather pretend to be a doctor and have a doll or stuffed animal as their patient, as they go about examining their pretend patient.

Play is a way for them to practice real life scenarios in a safe way. It also allows for the creative flow of thoughts and ideas. These are essential to the healthy development of the child. Parents who have a hard time letting go of their kids to allow unstructured play time need to recognize that these activities are actually assisting in their emotional and cognitive development.

Read my previous article about The Endless Battle Between School Works and Play for Children if you haven’t realized how kids’ creativity are being murdered these days.

Play can bring greater benefits than any scheduled activities

Play is their work. It is their time to process life through imaginative actions, and to build them into emotionally stronger people. The benefits of creative play should not be discounted or minimized.

Creative play has a multitude of benefits for children including:

  • Greater sense of self worth
  • Problem solving skills
  • Personal growth and learning
  • Increase in creative thought processes (creativity builds upon creativity)
  • Increase in emotional stability (children use play to work through complex issues)
  • Leadership abilities
  • Cognitive skills
  • Communication skills (as they play with other children and express themselves)

Don’t rob your kids of the benefits of creative play by having them busy all the time in scheduled activities. Allow time for them to play and be a child.

A subtle action can murder an innocent creative play

There are things that a parent or caregiver can inadvertently do that will kill a child’s abilities to flourish creatively in that moment. Below are just some of the things that can harm or inhibit creative play.

Hovering

When adults hoover over their children during play time, the children are aware of their presence. It inhibits their ability to play, as many children will limit their actions based on what they believe the adult will like or dislike in their actions. The child becomes attuned to accommodating the hovering by playing according to positive reactions from their caregiver.

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This can also be conversely true as well. Meaning that the child may play in a way that seeks out negative attention from the hovering caregiver. Either way, the hovering is not beneficial in the long run, as it is stifling the child’s ability to be creative without the direct scrutiny of an adult.

Pressure to perform

Children need to be able to play without feeling that they are performing. They don’t need to create something meaningful like a rehearsed puppet show or a quality piece of artwork to be creative.

Often, creativity is built over time. They need time, space, and freedom from pressure to be creative. Sometimes, nothing is created and that is fine too. The purpose is to allow them to be creative on their own and in their own element, so pressure must not be placed on them. Pressure does not help creativity flow for children. Instead it creates stress and negative emotions that inhibit creativity.

Control

Allow the child to do their own thing. If you are constantly saying “why don’t you do things this way” or “how about you do this…”, then you are trying to control the creative play.

Most children will eventually decide what and how they want to go about doing something. They don’t need interference. Even if it is the wrong way. As long as it is not harmful to them, then it is a creative experience that should teach them to do things differently next time. They will learn on their own using their own abilities than the controlling prodding from an adult.

Competition

There is plenty of competition for kids in this world and for the life ahead of them. Parents and adults do not need to make play time competitive, because for many kids this puts them off. They just want to participate with other children and enjoy the fun. They don’t want to be the loser in a competition.

If kids create their own competition in play, then that’s fine. It is not helpful for adults to intervene and force competitive situations in the play. It becomes real work when competition is put into the mix. It can suppress a child’s ability to be creative, as they are more focused on the competition at hand that allowing their natural creativity to abound.

Let the kids lead the play

Parents should allow for the child to lead the play, as this is allowing them to be the source of the creativity. Parents and adults can supply the materials needed and then let the child or children play using their own thoughts on how to proceed with the playtime. If parents get too involved or provide too much direction they inhibit the child’s creativity and self expression. Allowing the child space and time to play without specific instructions is exactly what children need to flourish in their creative element (provided that they are safe first and foremost).

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Below are some ways that you can encourage your child in free play. Allowing your child to do these things will stimulate their creative thought processes. It will also help their development emotionally and mentally.

1. Art

Provide your child with crayons, paints, paper, markers, empty boxes, and more and you will see them express their creativity. You don’t need to tell them what to draw or how to create art. They have their own ideas. If you want to be involved in the art then encourage their play by providing them with positive verbal cues as they play.

For example, as your daughter paints a piece of artwork and suddenly takes a bright red paint and splatters it all over their artwork, don’t tell her she is ruining her artwork. Instead comment on their creative choices. Praise their ability to know what they want and that they go and do it with confidence.

It is also ok to simply provide them with the supplies to create art and allow them the opportunity to create on their own. If you are concerned about mess, then cover the table and floor below the child with newspaper, paper towels, or other disposable materials and have them put on one of your old t-shirts. Be less concerned with the mess and more concerned with the child being able to freely create the art.

2. Outdoor exploration

Get outside and explore with your child. Something as simple as a bug box or binoculars can bring lots of creative ideas to the child. Allow the child to take the lead on what they want to discover that moment in nature or how they want to play. The great outdoors is a wonderful natural setting for play and imaginative activities to happen.

    3. Pretending adulthood

    One way that children play that helps them imagine how it will be to a grown up is through pretend play. When your children play adult scenarios such as, school (one child is the teacher and the others are students in a make believe classroom), doctor (they are doctors and perform surgeries and examinations on dolls or stuffed animals), or house (the kids pretend to be a family and they create home life situations to play out), they are imagining what it would be like to do these things in real life. They are playing through their reality of what can or may happen as adults in these scenarios. It is a way for them to safely express themselves and practice what it will be like to someday be an adult.

    4. Building

    Blocks, Legos, gear building sets, and other toys that allow children to build something are great for initiating creative and imaginative play. They must built to create something, therefore using their own skills of creativity and ingenuity. They are the architect, the construction crew, and the designer all in one. They plan, execute, and then enjoy the fruits of their labor when the project is complete.

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    There is great joy and self-worth attained when children build things. It isn’t just imaginative play, it is learning to start a project and complete it for the sake of their own satisfaction. Their self-motivation can be honed in on during building play time.

    Once again, parents can provide the materials and then let the child determine the course of the building, along with the execution. It is ok to help along the way if they ask for help, but allow them to direct you on what you should be doing in their project. That way they have the sense of being in control of their project and they are taking a leadership role in accomplishing the task at hand. It is empowering for the child and helps them to become stronger emotionally and mentally.

    5. Toys that facilitate creativity

    Play Doh, tinker toys, and the like facilitate creative play in children because they are creating somethings using these toys. These toys can be much like art and building combined. They allow the child to create freely from scratch. They can determine what to make and how to go about completion of what they want to make. They are utilizing great creative and innovative skills when allowed the space and freedom to plan and complete a project on their own.

    For example, a child can decide that they want to make a miniature town out of Play Doh. They get to decide how to create the buildings, where to place them, how big to make them, etc. They then get to execute and this involves trial and error. They learn to problem solve things such as the trees not standing up on their own, so they must create conifer trees only to support the weight of the Play Doh. They will revel in their success of completing their little town and feel proud of their accomplishment.

    It is more than just play, it is building life skills and developing problem solving skills that carry into adulthood.

      6. Physical activity

      Kids need physical activity. This is why they rarely sit still. They need to be moving physically all throughout the day, as this is the way children are made. They are physical creatures with an abundance of energy that is meant to be used for their benefit in the maturation process. When they play physically, especially with other children, they are often engaging in creative play.

      For example, they may chase one another and create imaginative games about good guys needing to capture the bad guys. They will create playtime activities on their own that involve physical play when they are allowed that freedom and enough physical space to move around.

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      Outdoors is the best place to allow them to be physically creative. It is also a great time for leadership skills to be developed. The child who is simply bossy will not attract other kids at play time. However, the child who has good leadership skills can attract other kids to play in their activity and can lead the way in the play.

      Creative physical play time is also beneficial to their physical well being since they are getting exercise while they are playing.

      Allow kids to be kids

      The Pediatrics Journal cites a variety of reasons that contribute to the reduction of play in society today,[1]

      …variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play.

      Parents need to be cognizant of their family lifestyle and schedule to ensure that their children are allowed to have time to be children. This means allowing them time to play freely which provides the opportunity for their creativity to blossom.

      Keeping children too busy and too structured is proving detrimental to their development in the long run. Their creativity, which is an important skill unlocks the gate for many valuable skills and traits children will need in adulthood, will be hindered.

      Featured photo credit: Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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      Dr. Magdalena Battles

      A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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      Published on July 4, 2019

      These 17 Life Skills Will Teach Your Kids Responsibility

      These 17 Life Skills Will Teach Your Kids Responsibility

      Teaching our children life skills that help them become responsible human beings is not something that can happen in a day or a week. It takes time, effort, and consistency in teaching them these skills over their entire childhood.

      It is helpful to start when they are very young and build on their skills as they age. The more skills that are built, the more you have helped to raise a responsible adult going into the world.

      Children will grow up, as time continues on whether we want it to or not, so it is our job as parents to teach them the skills that will make them responsible in adulthood. It is a process that takes years and dedication to helping your child develop these skills.

      Below are 17 skills that you should help your child learn before they become adults and go into the world on their own.

      1. The Ability to Cook

      Every child needs to learn to cook before they leave home as adults. If they can’t cook for themselves, then they will be wasting money on going out to eat. They will also be more likely to eat less healthy foods, since processed meals require less cooking skills and can be microwaved.

      Teaching them to cook entails the ability to use a stove first. Make sure they are old enough before allowing them to help at the stove. Safety first.

      They can help with mixing ingredients and measuring ingredients from a very young age. Teaching them to cook, as they grow up and their own skills develop is helpful. As they mature, you can teach them more complicated cooking methods.

      By the time they leave home, they should know how to use a stove and oven. They should be equipped with the skills to read a recipe and know how to follow any recipe. When you use recipes at home, walk them through the process, so you can help them learn these cooking skills. As you cook with your child, you can explain what specific cooking words in recipes mean, such as basting, sifting, and how to use measuring tools.

      Teaching your child to cook is not a one time experience. It should be part of their journey into adulthood and the best way to help them learn this skill is to have them help with meals on a weekly basis. Each time they cook with you, take the time to explain what you are doing and why, so they can learn something new in the kitchen.

      The ability to cook is something that can then grow and flourish in their adulthood. What a gift to teach your daughter or son the love of cooking and how to do it correctly!

      2. How to Do Their Own Laundry

      When I went off to college, I didn’t know how to use a washer or dryer. I had hung clothing on the clotheslines, folded, and put away literally thousands of loads of laundry growing up. However, the washer and dryer at our home were off limits for anyone except our parents to use.

      I was about four weeks into college life when I became in desperate need of clean laundry. I had no choice but to go to the laundry facility on campus and try to figure it out. Thankfully, there was a young man there who knew what he was doing. He taught me how to use the machines and which products to use. He also suggested I purchase dryer sheets to prevent wrinkles in my clothing.

      I am grateful for the time that he took to teach me how to use the machines and which products to use. I had the folding and putting away skills, so using the machines was the last component needed.

      Before your kids leave home, teach them how to use a washer and dryer, so that they feel confident in going to a laundry mat and doing their own laundry. You should also teach them how to properly fold and put away the clean laundry. The best way to teach them is to have them do it themselves with you telling them how is done in a kind and helpful manner.

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      Have your child fold laundry with you. Show them how to use your machines at home. Making laundry a part of their regular chores will help them develop responsibility while also helping you with the household workload.

      3. Fiscal Responsibility

      Children need to learn how to manage money so they can manage their money wisely as adults. You will find some kids are savers and some are spenders. That’s okay, but there is also a balance.

      Teaching them how to be financially responsible with their money in childhood, teaches them how to be fiscally responsible as adults. One resource that is a great help is Dave Ramsey’s courses and books. Dave Ramsey is one of the best money educators in the world. His resources have been used by millions. They have online and in-person courses for adults. The website also has resources for parents to purchase to use with their teens and younger children.[1]

      4. The Art of Small Talk

      Small talk is essential to life responsibility. How is your child ever going to survive a job interview if they don’t know the art of small talk?

      This basic skill is the foundation of social skills. They need to be able to know how to start up small talk with anyone. This is how friends and connections are made. Their ability to start a conversation through small talk is one of the most valuable skills they can leave home with. If they know how to start up friendly conversations with anyone, they will become more confident each time they use this skill. It leads to social confidence in all that they may pursue in life.

      Someday they may meet with the President of a country. If they are confident in their ability to make small talk and have done it thousands of times, then the most important meeting of their life can be successful because they walk into the situation with confidence and the skills to socialize through small talk. Here’re 9 Ways To Make Small Talk that you can teach your child.

      5. Typing Skills

      My kids are always amazed with my ability to type fast on my laptop. I always tell them that it is something that they will learn to do too. “Someday you will type this fast too”, is what I often say to them.

      Whether they enter the work force or head off to University as adults, they need to be able to type. The world is run digitally. Being able to type and use a keyboard are as essential as being able to speak the language where they live.

      Can they survive in adulthood not being able to type fast? Sure, it’s absolutely possible. But if you want them to be successful and responsible, then teaching them how to type is essential. For almost every job, there is a digital component to that job. Being able to use that digital device and having the ability to type is essential. The more competent they are with their typing skills the better.

      Being able to use a laptop and smart phone are very important, but those skills seem to come much more naturally to kids than to adults. They can figure out how to navigate an iPad or tablet with little to no direction in preschool. It is much more instinctual to them.

      Let them learn these things when they are young, because they will need these skills in adulthood whether they want to work in an office, fill out a dating profile online someday, or write their own blog. The ability to type is essential for successful and responsible adulting.

      6. How to Set and Achieve Goals

      We must teach our children how to set and achieve goals if we want them to be responsible adults. They don’t need to set their life goals at age 12. But it is helpful for them to set goals that pertain to their life and the age that they are at.

      Teaching them to do this when they are young, equips them with goal setting skills which are essential to being successful and responsible adults. Kids of any age can set short term and long term goals. You may need to help them with this process the first few times.

      A great model to utilize with your children for goal setting is the SMART method. This Lifehack article can teach you How to Set Smart Goals. Learn this method for yourself, so you can also use it with your children.

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      7. How to Stay Healthy Through Exercise and Good Eating Habits

      Responsibility toward our body is fundamental to survival. If we can’t take care of our body, then we won’t live a healthy life and likely will limit how long we live. It is up to us as parents to teach our children about healthy eating habits and the importance of exercise. The example of our behavior is one of the most crucial ways that our children learn about leading a healthy lifestyle.

      Here are some other ways you can teach your child about being responsible and caring properly for their body:[2]

      1. Eat at least one meal a day as a family
      2. Get your children outside and involved
      3. Turn off the technology
      4. Focus on extracurricular activities
      5. Never use food as a reward
      6. Make sure their school offers daily, quality Physical Education

      8. Dressing Correctly

      Being responsible for your clothing and appearance is important. If you walk around with missing buttons, you aren’t going to be very respected where you work. Your appearance is the walking billboard or who you are, whether you like it or not.

      First impressions are often based on appearance. Being clean with unwrinkled clothing that matches and is also appropriate for the occasion is an essential life skill. If you show up to a job interview for an office job in a wet suit they will likely think you are crazy and you won’t be offered the job. This may seem like an extreme example, but showing up in a wetsuit for a job interview is just as bad as showing up to an office job interview in ragged jeans and a wrinkled old t-shirt.

      What you wear on your body shows to others around you what you are saying about yourself. Do you respect yourself? Do you respect the event you are attending? Do you respect the people that you are meeting? Attending a formal wedding in jeans is not cool. This happens when adults are not taught the importance of their appearance and wearing clothing that is appropriate for the occasion during their childhood.

      Teach them by your own example, but also be directing them in what they wear from a young age, so that they don’t make these big mistakes regarding their appearance in adulthood. This doesn’t mean you force them to dress a certain way every day. It does mean you provide guidance and explain to them the social nuisances of dressing for every occasion.

      9. How to Use Tools and Do Basic Repairs

      When your child leaves your home as an adult, they better know how to use a hammer and nails, change lightbulbs, and how to use different kids of screw drivers.

      Things happen in life and being able to respond with basic repair skills is essential. This includes sewing.

      For example, if your child is headed to their first day of classes and they are missing a button on their only clean shirt, what are they going to do? Duct tape it or sew it back on? If you have taught them correctly, they should know how to use needle and thread to sew on buttons and make basic repairs to their own clothing.

      If the faceplate on an outlet in their apartment comes off, do they know what kind of screwdriver to use and how to screw the plate back onto the wall, rather than leaving dangerous electrical wires hang from the wall? Basic skills require some basic teachings while they are growing up and in your care. If a screw falls out of one of their toys, use it as an opportunity to teach them how to use a screwdriver to put it back into place.

      When you teach them these skills early in life, you are teaching them to be responsible for their belongings and home. You are also equipping them with the skills to do basic repairs on their own.

      10. Time Management

      Kids start learning time management from an early age. Are we teaching them to procrastinate getting ready in the morning and then they rush out the door, only to forget their school lunch and arrive late anyway? Or are we teaching our children to budget their time in the morning, so that they know they should be dressed by 7:00 am, by 7:20 they have breakfast finished, and by 7:30 they have all their belongings collected and are by the door ready to depart for school?

      Time management at a young age teaches them how to manage their time for the future.

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      Letting them sleep in after you have attempted to  get them up the morning five times already, is counterproductive to teaching them good time management skills. If they have difficulty waking each morning, then they probably need to go to bed earlier. Teaching them to wake up consistently at a time that allows them to get ready and not feel rushed is important to helping teach long term time management skills. The same goes for getting to bed on time. These are the two most important factors that will affect their ability to get to their job on time as adults.

      Teach them by your own example that it is more important to arrive early than to arrive late. Consistency in your own behavior goes a lot further than anything you can ever say to your child about time management.

      11. How to Respond in an Emergency

      Every child must know how to respond in an emergency in order to be a responsible adult. Does your child know how to call 911? That is usually the most basic skill that we can teach them about emergency response.

      The next would be first aid response and CPR skills. There are babysitting courses for young teens where these CPR and first aid skills are taught.

      Getting them enrolled in a first aid and CPR class, even if it is a one-day event, can greatly prepare them to be responsible in responding to emergency situations. You never know what may happen to them in life. Perhaps they have a job caring for children in college and one of those children chokes on a snack. Will they know what to do without panicking? Will they only call 911 or will be have the skills needed to perform the Heimlich Maneuver? These are skills that are priceless because they can save someone’s life someday.

      To find a CPR and First Aid Class for your teen go to the Red Cross Training Services Website and enter your zip code to find classes near you. You will also find on this site that babysitting classes are offered, so your teen can learn how to respond in emergency situations when caring for children.

      12. How to Clean a Home

      Teaching your children not only how to clean a home, but also the importance of keeping a clean and organized home are wonderful skills that can help them become responsible adults.

      If they have no clue how to clean a toilet when they leave home, they may never notice how dirty their apartment toilet is until a guest points it out to them. When you teach your children cleaning skills, you are also teaching them to notice where dirt, dust, and grime tend to collect in a home.

      Teach them to clean by talking them through each task the first time they do the task. For example, mopping the kitchen floor. Teach them how to use the mop, what kind of cleaner to use, and where to find the mop and bucket in your home. Inspect their work when they are done and help guide them. Perhaps they missed the corners. You can praise them for cleaning the main area of the floor and then show them how to effectively get the mop into the corners.

      Assigning them household cleaning chores that are to be done each week is a very good way to teach them responsibility. They are not only learning how to clean, but they are also learning how to be a part of a team. Your family is a team, so each person needs to take part in keeping the household up and running effectively, which includes having a clean home.

      13. Pump Gas

      If your teen becomes a licensed driver, you need to teach them how to pump their own gas. Full station gas stations are mostly a thing of the past. If you can find one, great, but it is not the norm these days. Teens need to know how to refuel a vehicle if they are a licensed driver. This is such a basic skill, but one that is often forgotten by parents.

      Not all gas pumps are the same and they are not exactly self explanatory either. Take a few minutes and teach your children how to pump gas after they get their driver’s license.

      Responsibility is also refilling the gas tank after they used the family car all weekend for their personal activities. Whether they use their money or your money is something you need to define with them. However, knowing how to actually use a gas pump is essential to the process. You don’t want them to be out on the highway running out of gas and then calling you because they didn’t even think to look at the gas gauge since they don’t know how to refill the gas tank.

      Help them learn to be responsible with their vehicle usage, by learning how to refill the gas.

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      14. Use Public Transportation

      Public transportation, whether it is using Uber, a Taxi, or the local bus system is an essential skill to have.

      For example, what if your 18 year-old daughter is on a date someday while away at college and her date becomes intoxicated. She knows she shouldn’t ride home with him, but she also doesn’t know how to get a cab or request a ride from Uber. What if the friends she calls are not available and the restaurant is closing? What will she do? Teach her how to use public transportation methods before she gets stuck in a bad situation. This is teaching your children responsibility.

      If you are traveling to a different city and you are going to use the subway, then have them help figure out how to get to and from your destination. Teach them how to hail a cab when they are teens and you are together. That way they can do it on their own someday when needed.

      15. Stick Up for Themselves

      Children need to learn how to advocate for themselves, this is teaching them life responsibility. A day will come when their mom or dad is not there to fight their battles for them. They need to practice advocating and sticking up for themselves in childhood, so they can be prepared to do so in adulthood.

      For example, if you have a teen who feels that they are being treated unfairly by a coach, it should be something that they talk to their coach about first. If you, as a parent, need to intervene later when things don’t get resolved, then do so. But for the initial talk with the coach, it should be the teen approaching the coach to discuss the issue, not the parent. You may need to help prepare your child with what they need to say and some key points to bring up, but then they can talk to the coach themselves. They need to learn how to advocate from themselves.

      From a young age, parents need to allow children to stick up for themselves, so they are prepared to be their own advocates for the big things in life. Someday they may be laying in a hospital bed and they need to advocate for themselves to get the right medical treatments needed. If they haven’t been equipped with these skills earlier in life, then they will suffer in the long run.

      16. Be a Team Play and Good Helper

      Being a good team member is essential in life. We all need to work well with others in order to become successful.

      Being a good team player should start in the home. They are part of team family. This means that they learn to be a helper in the home and part of making the household run well. They can be given weekly chores and task to complete that help with the running of the household.

      Having them play in team sports also helps them learn to be a team player. Being a good team player and knowing how to help others is crucial to becoming responsible adults and productive members of society.

      17. Have Good Manners

      Good manners and being well behaved go hand in hand. A child who has learned good manners knows how to act in a responsible way in public. Children who grow up without guidance on how to act in different social settings can act socially irresponsible as adults.

      For example, good manners includes bringing flowers or wine to a dinner party when you are a guest invited to a formal dinner party. If your child hasn’t been taught these things and they show up empty handed and dressed like they are headed for the beach, then they risk offending their host. Teaching a child good manners goes a long way in creating socially responsible adults.

      The development of manners starts in the home. It is more than teaching them what silverware to use at a dinner party. Good manners also includes showing respect for others and using polite words such as please and thank you.

      Respect for others is crucial to being a responsible adult. Those adults who don’t know how to respect others were likely not taught at an early age good manners or the importance of treating others as we want to be treated.

      The Bottom Line

      Raising children is more than feeding and clothing our children and ensuring they get a good education. Parenting involves teaching our children life skills that prepare them for adulthood. Starting young is best, but then again, it is never too late to start teaching anyone these valuable life skills.

      More About Parenting

      Featured photo credit: Sai De Silva via unsplash.com

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